Last time, I wrote about the fourth verse of Psalm 23, reminding us that we should not fear any evil. Now I’d like to move on to the next verse. I’m not trying to create “sermon series”, but this song that David wrote thousands of years ago is so rich in gratitude toward our Good Shepherd that it bears dwelling on verses that aren’t pondered as often as the earlier verses.
“You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.” Psalm 23:5 (NIV)
The first part of this, “You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies,” focuses on trusting God. Sure, we may think of our Good Shepherd coming into battle with us in those moments where we know we are fighting something–we just came through the valley of the shadow of death! That is one level of trust, and it is certainly important. But what about in a mundane, everyday activity like having a meal. Do we realize that even in those calm moments, we are in the presence of our enemies? Just like in “physical” warfare, the enemy and his combatants in spiritual warfare look for opportunities for sneak attacks, when we least expect it and are therefore not prepared to fight back. David is telling us here that even in those moments, even when we don’t know it, God is protecting us.
Imagine you are in the middle of an actual physical battlefield, in which you are surrounded by clear and present threats to your life. Now picture this: Jesus calmly walks up to you, spreads out a blanket, and starts setting up a lavish picnic feast He has prepared for you. What do you do? Of course, my natural instinct would be to tackle Him and tell Him to take cover. But before I can do that, He looks at me with a twinkle in His eye and says, “Trust Me.” OK, I feel like I trust Him, but do I trust Him this much??
So what is this about anointing our heads with oil? On the one hand, it’s a reference to God’s blessings, which He so freely gives to us. We have trusted Him, so we’ve made it through the valley of the shadow of death and we’ve agreed to a feast in the presence of our enemies, so He anoints us with oil the way kings of Israel were anointed when they became king. God takes away our filthy rags and replaces them with His own royal robes.
In another sense, though, this also symbolizes God’s protection over us. Getting back to the uncomfortable (but true!) comparison of us to sheep, God is again being a Good Shepherd. Since sheep are prone to attracting insects–not only ticks, lice, and flies, but also other bugs that would crawl into their ears and wreak all kinds of havoc on their brains (enough said about that!). The way a good shepherd would protect his/her sheep would be to rub oil onto their heads, which would keep all the nasty pests away. One thought might be: I wish I could put that oil on my head and it would keep Satan and his demons away from me. But that’s is the point of this phrase–we don’t have to, because the Lord, our Good Shepherd, has done it for us! Simply whispering the name of Jesus is enough to send the forces of darkness running away from us in fear.
And where does all this lead? God’s protection and God’s abundance lead to an overflowing cup. OK, so we’re back at our lavish feast with Jesus in the midst of a battlefield. Now imagine He produces a bottle of 2016 Chateau Lafite Rothschild (and imagine you know off the top of your head that a single bottle of this costs about $1000). He sets your glass before you and begins to pour the wine into it. But instead of being a good sommelier, He keeps pouring and pouring, until the expensive liquid overflows out of your glass. “Jesus, what are you doing?!?” you might exclaim. He laughs, the twinkle still in His eye. This was no careless accident. “That’s OK, I’ve got plenty,” He says. For a moment, the thought flashes through your mind that this is an expensive symbol for His priceless blood, so why would He waste it?
We have a tendency toward a scarcity mindset. If you get a bigger piece of the pie, there’s less for me, or vice versa. That’s not the way it works with God. The word abundance (or variations of it) appears in the Bible about 231 times. If I give you a bigger piece of the pie, God will make more. He is pleased to lavish blessings upon us. This includes the blood of Christ–there is more than enough to go around!
However, when we talk about blessings, we all tend to think of worldly blessings. If I’m blessed, I must have a big mansion (or several), a big fancy car (or several), a big bank account, and frequent foreign vacations. While there is nothing wrong with or evil about worldly wealth, this is not what God has in mind when He talks repeatedly about blessing us abundantly. He lavishes us with eternal blessings, things that get or keep us on the path toward an eternal life that is so grand and glorious that our minds can scarcely imagine it. He blesses us with a close relationship with Himself, and out of that flows abundant love and grace and peace. He grants us the ability to find life and joy through Him, even in the most dire circumstances. All of these things can lead to earthly blessings, but these are not the prize. We are not to hoard them, for often He gives us these blessings to pass along to others. In fact, this is one reason He gives us each other–so often, blessings we receive flow through people we encounter. I can’t even count how many ways God has blessed me through my wife, my kids, my extended family, and friends.
We only need eyes to see the countless ways God has blessed us, and continues to bless us. And He has given us that ability as well, to see the blessings all around us instead of focusing on negative aspects of our lives and the world we live in.
So there it is. We are blessed beyond measure so that we can be blessings to others. That’s the way it works in God’s economy of abundance. And so it is that our cups overflow, thanks to our Good Shepherd.